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  • Writer's picturedocschleg

We Really Love Your Child

A recent interaction reminded me of a talk with my child's preschool teachers many years ago. My child was having some classroom problems that I was "discussing" with the teacher who abruptly stated, "I just want you to know how much we love your child." At the time I thought it was an interesting non-sequitur, but many years and many teacher conferences later I better understand what the teacher meant.

I have heard many versions of that statement over the years. I have heard it during teacher meetings, meetings with other professionals, and from other parents reporting on their own experiences. It is safe to say that I have never heard of a parent being comforted, encouraged, or grateful for such a message when it seems to come out of nowhere. Most parents I talk to have a similar response to mine. Initially, they are confused as to why the teacher stops a discussion to say such a thing. Then, over time, they realize that it is totally within context but has a paradoxical meaning. They learn to be suspicious at such statements.

Professionals who use such effusive non-sequiturs probably do not realize what they are doing. It's likely a nervous habit, like saying "um" a lot while giving a speech. Professionals should be aware though that such statements send a clear message to parents who are tired of hearing what's wrong with their child when they expect to hear what you plan to do about it. When I process these statements with professionals I often hear about the professionals' fatigue, frustration, lack of training, lack of resources, or even embarrassment. Honest professionals will admit they struggle to do their job well and struggle to like children who frustrate them. Anyone who has worked with children will know that such frustrations are real and common. Rather than platitudes, however, professionals need to be seeking support.

Parents should be aware of the misdirection. Like the Great Oz saying, "Do not look at the man behind the curtain," professionals are sometimes tired of putting in maximum effort and getting criticized for minimal results. I think it's OK though to look past the platitude and pursue a solution. You can politely thank the professional for the statement and redirect the conversation to the original goal of the meeting, which is the good of the child.

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